Govt as arbiter of fake news: Front pages strike a dismal note on IT Rules amendment

This is just days after the SC talked about press freedom in the MediaOne judgement.

WrittenBy:NL Team
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In January, Newslaundry had reported on a newly proposed amendment to the IT Rules, 2021 by which content deemed “fake” by the government’s fact-checking unit will have to be taken down by social media platforms. 

At the time, newspapers slammed the proposal as “problematic” since “one would have to be delusional to think that governments do not have an axe to grind”.

Come April, and the government yesterday notified these amendments to the IT Rules. Was there a similar outcry or were media houses resigned to the news that they knew was coming?

Indian Express tucked the news away on page 17. Unlike most other news reports, Express said the final draft of the amendment “has removed the reference to PIB” – instead it says the central government will appoint a “fact-check body” to label news as “fake” or “misleading”.

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In contrast, the Hindu had it as its lead story on page 1 of the Chennai edition. It quoted Rajeev Chandrasekhar, minister of state for electronics and IT, as saying, “I don’t want anybody to conflict this as some battleground between free speech and information.”

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The Times of India in Delhi had a brief mention of the news on page 1 headlined “Social media cos told to delete info redflagged by PIB”. A detailed report on page 11 noted that if companies refuse to abide, “they will lose their safe harbour immunity that guarantees them protection against any illegal or false content posted by users on their platform”.

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An interview with Chandrasekhar on page 20 had him saying these “obligations are directly cast on the intermediaries and not the media”. 

When asked about PIB’s own fact-checks being erroneous, Chandrasekhar said, “The concerns about errors being made in the past about the PIB or any other fact-checker will be addressed in the overall do’s and don’ts of the factchecking unit when notified. There will be oversight and accountability of the fact-checking unit before we notify.”

On its front page in Delhi, Hindustan Times contrasted the amendment with the Supreme Court’s comments earlier this week while striking down the ban on MediaOne news channel: “Criticism of governmental policy can by no stretch of imagination be brought within the fold of any of the grounds stipulated in Article 19(2).”

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The New Indian Express had a snippet under the masthead on page 1 in Chennai. 

The government yesterday also notified rules for online gaming. Read our explainer for everything you need to know about the government’s plans to regulate online gaming.

Also see
article imageUnder new PIB rules, journalists could lose accreditation if they act against national security
article imageExplained: All you need to know about the IT ministry’s draft rules to regulate online gaming

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